Boxer grabs cash, drops fight, handler says

December 07, 1993|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

Oscar De La Hoya, America's only gold-medal winner in the 1992 Olympic boxing competition, yesterday canceled his debut on ESPN Thursday night after receiving $1.5 million in cash from a rival management group, one of his managers said.

"It's absolutely amazing," said Steve Nelson, a mortgage banker who, with boxing figure Bob Mittelman, had signed De La Hoya to a five-year, $1 million deal to turn professional after his Olympic triumph in Barcelona, Spain.

Nelson contends that on Friday a cousin of De La Hoya, Gerardo Salas, and Ray Garza, president of a Hispanic advertising firm in Los Angeles, delivered a briefcase with $1.5 million in cash to De La Hoya.

"I understand that Salas and Garza were just the front guys for a group of investors," Nelson said. "But for someone 20 years old, I'm sure that looks like a lot of money.

"We've got a legally binding contract. If Oscar fights for these guys, we'll still get paid. But they [Garza-Salas] advised him to pull out of the fight."

Promoter Bob Arum, president of Top Rank Inc., said: "I can't believe this kid would do something so crazy."

De La Hoya, 20, of East Los Angeles, was to have arrived in New York today to prepare for the fight at Madison Square Garden and to announce the signing of a two-year, multimillion-dollar promotional deal with Home Box Office and an endorsement contract with McDonald's.

De La Hoya also was tentatively signed to fight Jimmy Bredahl, of Denmark, for the World Boxing Organization junior-lightweight title on March 5. But all of that has been put on hold, and the battle for control of De La Hoya (10-0) now will be fought in the California courts.

The Garza-Salas group sought a restraining order last week against Nelson and Mittelman, claiming they "were harassing" De La Hoya. But the court rejected the motion.

Nelson and Mittelman, in turn, filed a suit yesterday against "Garza-Salas" for "contractual interference."

"If Oscar doesn't want to be associated with us anymore, we'll have to consider selling his contract," Nelson said. "We've got a lot of money invested in him. We've already paid out close to $800,000."

Nelson, however, said he anticipates a buyout offer will soon be made by the contending management group.

To sign De La Hoya, Nelson said he and Mittelman took a "significant loan" from promoter Arum. By doing so, they were able to outbid Shelly Finkel, manager of heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield who had courted De La Hoya.

Arum, who predicted De La Hoya would become "the new Sugar Ray Leonard," was granted a five-year contract to promote him. He was looking forward to showcasing De La Hoya for the first time in New York.

"I'm sick to my stomach," Arum said. "We'd sold over 3,000 seats, and we were anticipating a sellout [4,500] at the Paramount."

Meanwhile, Jose Concepcion (38-10-2) of the Dominican Republic, who was to have tested De La Hoya, will fight Lyndon Walker (9-6-2), of Norfolk, in ESPN's main event.

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